As I walked home from the cinema last night having watched the ninety minutes of Movie 43, I had a strangely familiar feeling. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Trying to work out why what I had just seen was so rubbish, and determined to understand how a film of such puerile inconsequence could be made deliberately, it suddenly struck me. The familiar sensation I was experiencing was one that I and all of my peers have experienced with varying levels of frequency and acuteness over the past five or six years. That feeling always occurs when we sit down with the computer intending to write the essay, or check the emails, or read the news. And then a certain length of time passes (it could be ninety minutes, it could be nine hours) before the realisation hits that we have been watching a series of puerile short videos on YouTube, occasionally grunting because amused, occasionally clicking one at random and watching that, all signifying nothing and leaving us with that feeling of emptiness and ennui.
So what’s this got to do with Movie 43 then, I hear you ask? Well, for all the fucking bullshit nonsense that I had to put up with for ninety minutes at the cinema last night, I might as well have been at home, watching YouTube. The experience was replicated almost exactly. Except for one very important caveat. When I’m sitting at home watching shit on the internet, there’s a certain amount of agency involved. I’ll grant you that after the first hour or so the process of clicking on the videos becomes fairly automatic, and at that stage it’s possible to ‘go deep’ into YouTube and find the sort of bizarre crap I never would have imagined myself watching. I could list some examples, but I’m sure you all know the kind of rubbish I’m talking about. Cats jumping out of windows, fat Americans trying to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon. That sort of thing. With Movie 43, however, I had no choice about the assorted stupid delights being forced upon me, and I bristled under the tyranny of the shadow of the screen.
Reflecting on this, and bearing in mind that there was apparently a two page spread in GQ the other day asking ‘Is this the worst film ever made?’ it occurred to me that perhaps most people going to see this movie had missed the point. So much is written by concerned commentators these days about the shortening attention spans and brain degradation of the ‘YouTube generation’, and the consequences for cinema as an art form of everyone having access to a computer with more choice of visual stimuli than any generation has ever had before. Yet this trash that everyone is panning could be one of most insightful and important reflections on this shift in the nature of entertainment yet put on the big screen. Or it could just be a load of old shit.
The film assembles a cast familiar to most movie goers from Hollywood A-List (Winslet, Jackman) to purveyors of puerile videos (Jonny Knoxvile – SEE!) and splits the film up into thirteen disparate, mostly not very amusing short pieces of bad comedy. How bad is it? One section involves a date between Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman with a set of hairy balls hanging from his neck. Another has Steven Merchant and Halle Berry on a date where they play truth or dare, and at various points Merchant gets an ejaculating penis tattooed on his face, while Berry makes guacamole with her breasts. So it’s pretty bad. Yet I did laugh occasionally, the jokes having a hit rate of about one in five, which isn’t too bad considering the amount of gags in the film. What I imagine grated people most was the randomness of it all, the complete lack of any point to it. To that extent the film appears mindless. Yet it looks like it’s sucking in great piles of money at the box office, and the critics of course hate it. But there was something more important going on under the surface of the sewage.
The framing device allowing so many of these random videos to be shown involved three teenage boys sitting in front of the computer, having uploaded a video involving one of them throwing a dartboard at the other one who had a dart in his mouth. This allowed the film to show YouTube on the big-screen, and then present the various clips as being watched by the teenagers on their computer. At one point someone on the other side of the world is telling them ‘Don’t watch the video! Don’t watch the video!’ but of course they do anyway. Towards the end, somehow these kids have caused something very undesirable to happen (I won’t spoil it for you) and a message pops up on one of the last computers around: ‘Do you want to return the world to normal?’ The kid clicks yes, and is refused again and again until eventually a message pops up saying ‘Sorry, but that’s impossible. Why don’t you just go watch a movie?’
The point the film is making is that the kind of random shit we watch on YouTube is just another form of low entertainment, which may or may not have aesthetic value – it doesn’t matter. Put all this junk up on the big screen, pack it with stars and give it a random title – ‘Movie 43’ – and people will still go to see it, and the critics will pan it as junk. But it’s still there. Just get fucking used to it. As one of the directors said this week ‘It’s not the end of the world.’